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Winter licked his lips. He felt the same glow that I did. We were on the right track; I knew it in my bones. ‘You’re right. But it’s also time we finished this.’

I held up my palm for a high five. Winter stared at it as if it were a strange, alien thing he’d never seen before. I dropped my hand in disgust but I was still grinning. And this time so was Winter.

***

Weathers’ little flat was still and silent and Bethany’s was much the same. Winter’s magic assured us that no one was inside either of them. That just left Rebecca. As we reached her house in a small suburb not too far from the city centre, I felt the adrenaline pumping round my body. The more I thought about it, the more Winter’s theory seemed to be true.

‘They’re all together,’ I breathed. ‘And conspiring against the Order. It’s the only thing that makes sense.’

‘We still don’t have a scrap of evidence, Ivy,’ Winter cautioned.

‘It fits. You know it does.’

He didn’t answer. Instead, we both stared up at the red-brick house. There was a light on inside, just visible at the top of the closed curtains. ‘Three people,’ Winter grunted.

‘See?’ I crowed.

‘Keep it down,’ he whispered. ‘And it’s still not proof. Maybe they’re just relaxing together after a long day at work. It makes sense that they know each other, they’re of similar Levels and ages.’

‘It must be gone two in the morning. That’s not relaxing, Winter.’ There was a sudden loud burst of laughter. ‘That’s a party.’

Winter ran a hand through this hair. For the first time, he looked rather tired. ‘What worked with Price won’t work here. They’ll feed off each other. Unless we separate them, they’ll never confess. And,’ he reminded me harshly, ‘without proof, we need a confession.’

I thought about it. ‘If we can eavesdrop on them, we might get what we need.’

His brow furrowed. ‘The house is warded against spells.’

‘Even though they’re all still First Level?’

‘Bear in mind what we think they’ve done,’ he answered.

True. If our theory was correct, they weren’t the magical weaklings their Level suggested. ‘Then we do this the old-fashioned way. I’ll sneak in. You wait out here until I call you.’

Winter put his hands in his pockets and glared. ‘No, I’ll sneak in. You wait out here.’

I snorted. ‘You just want all the glory for yourself.’

Winter looked astonished. ‘I certainly do not. In fact…’ His voice faltered when he saw that I was grinning. ‘Fine,’ he snapped. ‘We’ll sneak in together. But don’t make a move until I do. We already know how dangerous these three can be.’ He paused. ‘And they might just be having a drink after work. They might be entirely innocent.’

‘It might not be a drink, it might be an orgy. Well,’ I amended, ‘a threesome anyway.’

Winter looked faintly green. ‘Let’s hope not. Come on. There’s probably a back door.’

Winter took the lead. There was a small path leading round to Rebecca’s back garden; it was convenient but difficult to navigate silently, given that it was covered in pebbles. Winter flipped up the latch on the gate and went through it, stopping a few feet into the garden. I was hot on his heels.

‘Well, well, well,’ I murmured. ‘The plot thickens.’ I took in Rebecca’s garden. Even under the shroud of darkness, it was clear to see how seriously she took herbology. There were all manner of carefully arranged plants taking up the entire space apart from a small path so she could gain access for weeding or snipping or whatever.

Winter knelt down, his fingers brushing against a small purple leaf. ‘It’s still—’

‘Not evidence, I know,’ I said with a sigh. ‘But you have to admit it’s starting to look more and more likely that she’s involved in all this. What kind of First Level witch has a herb garden on this kind of scale?’

Winter didn’t answer.

I rubbed my eye, feeling a vague itch. ‘Eyelash,’ I breathed. I put the tiny hair on the back of my hand and stared at it then I blew it gently over my shoulder and made a wish.

Winter rolled his eyes. ‘That’s not going to work.’

‘We’ll see,’ I said smugly. I pointed to the back door leading into the house. ‘Come on, then.’

He put a finger to his lips, unnecessarily indicating silence. With slow, deliberate movements, he twisted the doorknob. There was a faint squeak as it opened and I held my breath. When there was nothing more than the continued sound of raucous laughter from inside, I exhaled in relief.

Winter edged into Rebecca’s kitchen. It was empty of people but there were several open bottles of wine on the counter. I peered round. Up ahead there was a glint of light from what I assumed was the living room.

‘I’d have given anything to have seen Price’s expression,’ Weathers’ familiar voice said, a gleeful chortle colouring every word.

‘The man deserves everything that comes to him.’ That was Rebecca.

I whipped my gaze towards Winter but he frowned and shook his head. He wanted more. I scowled. They were all congratulating themselves; it was obvious that we’d found what we were looking for.

‘Tomorrow,’ Weathers murmured, ‘I am going to put in my application for Arcane Branch.’

‘You won’t get in.’

‘You don’t know that.’

‘Oh come on,’ Bethany said. ‘No one knows what we’ve achieved. You’re still First Level.’

‘I have skills.’ There was a pout in his voice.

‘I know that, but no one else does. And until the dust settles, you’re going to have to keep those skills to yourself. We need to lay low until we’re sure this has worked.’

I jabbed Winter’s arm triumphantly. He glared at me and shook his head again. Good grief; how much evidence did the guy need? He’d told me not to make a move until he did but if we did things his way, we’d be here all night. Yet again, I’d have to force our hand.

I gently nudged him out of the way. He reached out to grab my arm but, for once, I anticipated his move and remained free. Before he could do anything, I opened the door and grinned at the three hapless witches. ‘Hello!’

There was an almost comical moment when they stared at me, unmoving, their expressions frozen in horror. Then Rebecca broke the sudden silence and leapt to her feet, reaching for a small pile of pre-mixed herbs on the coffee table.

‘Don’t!’ I said, doing what I could to forestall Winter from joining me as well as trying to stop Rebecca attacking. ‘I’m alone and I’m not here to cause problems.’ I focused my attention on Weathers as he seemed the most likely to soften first. ‘I’m on your side.’ I held up my palms to indicate that I was coming in peace. ‘I wasn’t planning on confronting you all but when I saw the light, I knew I had to act. I had to speak to you about what you’ve done.’ I schooled my face into a look of admiration; they had to believe me if this was going to work.

‘Check the back,’ Bethany said. Rebecca remained poised to fling the herbs and whatever nastiness they contained at me.

Weathers scooted past me, ducking his head into the kitchen and then out towards the back garden. I held my breath, hoping Winter had the sense to stay out of sight.

‘No one’s there,’ Weathers said. ‘Not that I can see.’

Bethany picked up a candlestick and brandished it in my direction. ‘Start talking,’ she spat. ‘What do you think you’re doing breaking in here?’

‘Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick,’ I said happily. ‘Or rather you three in the library with the sceptre. You know what I mean.’ I dropped into a chair and beamed. ‘You guys are my heroes.’

‘What are you on about?’

‘Oh, come on, you know I don’t want to be part of the Order. You’re in HR. I bet you looked up my file. Price screwed up and that’s why I’ve been forced to work with that plonker Winter. But anyone who’s working from within to bring down those higher Level freaks is good in my book.’ My eyes gleamed. ‘I want to join you.’

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